“We were motivated by potential cost savings, ease of use, lack of battery charge room and also the enthusiasm to open a new site with innovative technology.”

Philippe Giroux, CEO Prelodis, Prelocentre Group

Fresh produce logistics company uses fuel cell trucks from Jungheinrich

Prelodis (Préparation Logistique Distribution), France

Logistics service provider

Project partner
Jungheinrich AG
Plugpower Inc.
Air Liquide Group


Project duration

Project description
The French logistics service provider Prelodis has opted for a fleet of industrial trucks powered by fuel cells from Jungheinrich. This solution, which originates from the Lüneburg special-purpose plant, underscores the manufacturer’s broad expertise in supplying energy to industrial trucks.

Prelodis, the name stands for Préparation Logistique Distribution, handles about 270,000 tons of fruits and vegetables annually. For the development of the Grand Frais retail chain in the Paris region and beyond in the north and west of France, Prelodis, exclusive logistics provider for Grand Frais fruit and vegetables, has invested nine million euros in a 1,858-square-meter distribution center. The operator is Prelocentre, a subsidiary of the logistics service provider. The logistics center built in October 2015 in Saint-Cyr-en-Val (Loiret), south of Orléans, has also underpinned the retail chain’s positive image. After all, the highlight of the intralogistics solution is the fleet of industrial trucks that Jungheinrich’s Lüneburg special plant has modified for operation with fuel cells. Prelocentre uses the vehicles for loading and unloading trucks as well as for picking.

Increase productivity, co-emissions

Philippe Giroux, president of Prelodis, a company founded in 2001, is pursuing the goal of increasing the productivity of intralogistics operations with the investment in the fleet. At the same time, he wants to protect the environment by running the industrial trucks on green-certified hydrogen derived from renewable energy sources, thus reducingCO2 emissions.

“Our main requirement was to be able to refuel the vehicles within three minutes, saving 75 percent time compared to changing batteries,” Giroux explains. “Because this requirement is met, we are running, almost without interruptions, in three shifts.” The decision to work with fuel cells eliminates the need for battery changes and the battery charging room that the operator would otherwise have had to set up. These are all benefits that result in greater convenience and safety, as well as a smaller footprint because the company does not need charging stations in the building. Furthermore, the risks associated with battery replacements are avoided. “Fuel cell technology is an economical solution for us because it allows us to use our fleet of industrial trucks at a competitive cost,” says Giroux.

In the team to the optimal solution

As Giroux points out, Prelodis approached two manufacturers about the fuel cell technology and decided on Jungheinrich after an intensive discussion of the topic. The fuel cells used are GenDrive units from Plug Power. The specialist and European market leader in fuel cell technology is Jungheinrich’s cooperation partner for the overall system, including vehicles, fuel cells and the hydrogen charging station, whose terminal is connected to a hydrogen storage facility outside the building.

The project was preceded by a study lasting a good 18 months, for which Jungheinrich established a project team in France. Working closely with Prelodis and Plug Power, the team’s strong on-site presence saw it through every phase of the project to completion, providing 25 industrial trucks. Initial tests have been run with an EFG 216 electric forklift and an ECE 220 horizontal order picker. In order to be able to install the fuel cells in a shock-resistant and tip-proof manner, Jungheinrich has adapted the battery compartment of the industrial trucks to the dimensions of the energy converter.

This makes Saint-Cyr-en-Val the first Prelodis logistics site in Europe to use fuel cell technology. The basis for the rapid realization is the partnership between Jungheinrich and Plug Power as well as their experience in implementing fuel cell technology in material handling equipment.

Vehicles customized modified

By modifying its fleet of trucks, Jungheinrich has demonstrated its expertise in supplying energy to material handling equipment as a solution provider in intralogistics. Whether it’s lead-acid batteries, lithium-ion batteries or fuel cells. Even under very special operating conditions, the Lüneburg special plant is able to convert all new vehicles, which are in themselves designed for operation with 24- to 80-volt lead-acid batteries, to fuel cells. The requested modifications to the equipment are carried out by the customizing department of the Lüneburg plant. As part of this task, Jungheinrich is preparing an overall certification in accordance with the European directives for the truck and the fuel cell installed in it, including all the necessary tests and verifications.

According to Giroux, another argument in favour of Jungheinrich was the fact that the cooperation with Plug Power provides a coordinated service concept, thus ensuring smooth operations. The company contributes to this with qualified series-production vehicles whose performance and safety it proves by means of test certificates. In addition, Jungheinrich has solved the problem of dissipating the heat generated during the operation of fuel cells, which takes place through slots in the battery compartment of the units.

In terms of industrial trucks, Prelodis, which generates annual sales of around 30 million euros with approximately 300 employees, primarily uses ESE electric low-platform trucks. In addition, in Saint-Cyr-en-Val, where 80 employees will be working in the future, you will find, among other things, EFG 216 electric counterbalanced trucks and ECE 220 horizontal order pickers – all vehicle types that have already proven themselves in the test phase.

Economic efficiency requires large fleet

With regard to the service life of the fuel cells, Prelodis assumes ten years. Says Giroux: “In terms of payback time, we calculate six to seven years for the use of a fuel cell-powered industrial truck. In the case of several units, we assume a shorter period. In that case, the investment in the costly hydrogen infrastructure and the costs for its regular maintenance would be spread over the vehicles and thus pay for themselves more quickly.” It is also crucial for a rapid payback that Prelocentre manages to switch from the current two-shift to three-shift operation. This would make it possible to achieve the required cost-effectiveness, especially as it would eliminate the need for many battery changes and the associated time expenditure. It is equally important that the number of industrial trucks reaches the economic level of over 50 and that the entire fleet is used intensively. The rapid return on investment at Prelodis is also due to the regional promotion of fuel cell vehicles.

“The user-friendly solution chosen for the Saint-Cyr-en-Val site with Jungheinrich material handling equipment offers itself as a template for equipping other sites,” says Giroux, drawing an interim conclusion. It thus forms a basis for Grand Frais’ goal of opening fifty additional sales markets over the next five years, primarily in the eastern half of France. If the company implements this plan, the demand for logistics services and the challenges for Prelodis are also likely to increase.

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